Sharpe's Tiger is Bernard Cornwell's return to the Richard Sharpe series of novels, set during his early years in India. This is Cornwell's device to find prequel material for his hero. The first (chronologically) of the Richard Sharpe series, and of the Sharpe India trilogy, by the English author Bernard Cornwell. It takes place in Mysore, India and tells of Sharpe's adventures and triumphs against the Tipu Sultan during the Siege of Seringapatam.
The story opens with Richard Sharpe serving as a private with the British army, then invading Mysore and advancing on the Tippoo Sultan's capital city of Seringapatam. Sharpe is contemplating desertion with his paramour, widow Mary Bickerstaff. His sadistic company sergeant, Obadiah Hakeswill, deliberately provokes Sharpe into attacking him, and engineers the virtual death sentence of 2,000 lashes for the private. But Sharpe is rescued by Lieutenant William Lawford (the later Lt.Col. William Lawford) after 200 lashes are inflicted, in order to effect a rescue mission behind the Sultan's lines.
Lawford and Sharpe are ordered to pose as deserters to rescue Colonel Hector McCandless, chief of the British East India Company's intelligence service. Although Lawford is nominally in command, Sharpe quickly dominates the lieutenant by force of personality and, without authorization, brings Mary on the mission. Joining the Sultan's army, they discover that the Sultan has set a trap for the invading British by mining the weakest (and thus most inviting) portion of Seringapatam's walls.
Before Sharpe and Lawford can discover a way to transmit a warning to the British, they are betrayed by Sergeant Hakeswill. Hakeswill has been captured in battle and the Sultan orders him made a human sacrifice for victory, but Hakeswill secures the Sultan's mercy in exchange for revealing Sharpe's and Lawford's identity as spies.
Sharpe and Lawford are imprisoned as the British army prepares to assault the booby-trapped wall of the city. Mary helps Sharpe to escape, and Sharpe blows up the mine before the main British army can enter the trap. As the Sultan tries to flee the city, Sharpe finds him in a dark tunnel, kills him, and steals his rich jewels. Sharpe throws Hakeswill to the Sultan's tigers, but the recently fed animals ignore Hakeswill, and Sharpe's enemy survives to plague him in later adventures.
- Richard Sharpe – the main protagonist.
- William Lawford – Sharpe's lieutenant who aids him in freeing Colonel McCandless.
- Mary Bickerstaff – a widowed half-Indian army wife, now attached to Sharpe.
- Colonel Arthur Wellesley – later 1st Duke of Wellington.
- Colonel Hector McCandless – Scots intelligence officer for the East India Company, held captive by Tipoo Sultan in the dungeons of Seringapatam.
- Tippoo Sultan – the Indian King who is killed by Sharpe. His red ruby and some of his other jewels are stolen by Sharpe.
- Colonel Jean Gudin – a French adviser to Tippoo Sultan.
- Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill – becomes Sharpe's enemy, engineering his sentence to 2000 lashes.
- brevet Lieutenant Fitzgerald – murdered by Hakeswill during a battle outside Seringapatam.
- Ensign Hicks - the junior officer serving with the Light Company
- Captain Morris - the commanding officer of 33rd Light Company
- Major Shee - the commanding officer of the 33rd Regiment